Pixar’s 25th Anniversary/ CARS 2: Going Global
The Gang from Radiator Springs Embarks on a Worldwide Adventure to Japan, Italy, France and the U.K.
When “Cars” drove into theaters in 2006, moviegoers fell in love with Radiator Springs—its charm, simplicity and small-town magic that seemed to capture all who encountered it. It is, after all, the cutest little town in Carburetor County. That’s according to the town’s chief tow truck—and Mater knows these kinds of things.
But when it came time to revisit the gang from Radiator Springs, filmmakers wondered how this charismatic bunch would do outside the security of home. But where?
Why the whole world, of course.
“Wherever you can go in our world,” says director John Lasseter, “we can go in the world of ‘Cars.’”
And that’s pretty cool, says Lasseter. “If you look at all three ‘Toy Story’ movies, they’re so different in theme from one another, but they all take place in Andy’s room and around that world of the toys. What’s so different about this movie is that the world of ‘Cars 2’ is truly is as big as the world we live in.”
In fact, it was during the international publicity tour for “Cars” that the director first imagined his car-cast in a global setting. Lasseter says he took in the mayhem of international locales like Tokyo and Paris laughed to himself thinking, “what would Mater do?” “The story of ‘Cars 2′ was sparked by the idea of taking Lightning McQueen and Mater overseas,” says Lasseter. “Lighting McQueen is invited to compete in the World Grand Prix to race against the fastest cars in the world in three fantastic locations: Japan, Italy and the U.K. Of course Mater, who has never left Radiator Springs, is completely out of place in these distinctive cultures, which leads to hilarious comedic moments.”
HITTING THE ROAD
A global adventure like “Cars 2” comes with its share of challenges. According to producer Denise Ream, as a sequel, the film had a bit of a head start since many of the core characters and the world they live in were established in “Cars.” “Coming into ‘Cars 2,’ says Ream, ‘it was really helpful knowing that there was a template. However, we expanded the world to feature all of these international places, so the look may have been established, but there was an enormous scope added. That’s been the biggest challenge, incorporating all of these dynamic locations—nearly double the number of locations than any other Pixar film has had.”
“You have to reinvent worlds,” adds co-director Brad Lewis. “You have to ‘car-ify’ every background building, prop and character to bring them into the ‘Cars’ world. And it’s all part of an episodic film with comedy and emotion. I remember when we were giving the initial pitches to the team that would be responsible for a lot of the design and scope of the movie—they would get this look on their faces like ‘You have got to be kidding me!’”
But the artists and storytellers at Pixar Animation Studios were up to the task. The first step was research and this team is passionate about research—especially when it means traveling to exotic international locales and soaking up as much of the local culture as possible. They explored cities in Europe and Japan to cement plot details and ensure authenticity in the look and feel of the worldwide settings.
Several members of the “Cars 2” production team went on a whirlwind tour to Europe in May 2009, visiting as many cities as possible, including a two-day visit to London.
Filmmakers took note of the color palette in each country, says production designer Harley Jessup. “We’re actually using the gray skies and stonework of London as a counterpoint to the brilliant colors of the cars and the red double-decker busses and phone booths. There are a lot of red and blue accents in London.”
The visit included stops at Scotland Yard, the House of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and London Eye, but Jay Shuster, character art director, spent much of his time on street corners. “There was a point at which I was standing on a curbside in London during the morning commute, recording every car that I saw, including trucks and busses—just trying to get the flavor of that environment.”
Shuster’s observations allowed the team to populate the global locations with precisely the types of vehicles one would find there. “Native species,” as he calls them.
Artists had fun “car-ifying” some of the monumental features in each of the cities the film explores. Says Jessup, “We used car models and motifs from the late 1800s and early 1900s and used their features and details to decorate the oldest monuments and icons in each city.”
For example, in the London of “Cars 2,” the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is shaped like a car’s differential gear casing. One of the team’s favorite transformations is Big Ben—aptly called Big Bentley in “Cars 2.” “That’s probably the best example of a monument fitting perfectly into our world,” says Jessup, who was able to take a rare tour of the inside of Big Ben. “Big Bentley plays a pivotal part in the story. In order to make it fit into the ‘Cars’ world, we scaled it up about 250 percent—even the clockworks, which would actually fit in a conference room—were scaled up by at least 50 times their normal size.” The “car-ified” landmark also sports Bentley grilles and hood ornaments.
According to Lewis, there was another London locale that was on the must-have list. “We knew we were going to feature Buckingham Palace,” says the co-director. “We always thought that would be a beautiful place to stage a straightaway in the race and if you could have the race finish near the entrance to Buckingham Palace, it couldn’t get any more majestic than that. John and I found the thought of Mater trying to make the Beefeater guards laugh so funny that we had to do our own version for the film.”
Lasseter’s imagination long ago placed Mater in Paris. “How would Mater maneuver through the giant roundabouts around the Arc de Triomphe?” he asks. “No signals and no lane lines.”
The film features a montage of Paris that includes a shot of the famous monument with Mater trying to merge into traffic. As in London, the production team “car-ified” the Arc de Triomphe by designing the top to be in the shape of an engine block and using headlights in the front features. The montage also includes a kissing car-couple on a romantic bridge reminiscent of the Pont des Arts—a location frequented by Lasseter and his wife Nancy whenever they visit the City of Love. Lasseter even ensured that the “girl car” was designed in his wife’s favorite color, lavender.
And of course the Pont des Arts in “Cars 2” was “car-ified,” along with the city’s other iconic monuments—constructed with automobile leaf springs, a type of spring used in car suspensions. The top of the Eiffel Tower in “Cars 2” is the shape of a 1930s European spark plug and its base contains the features of a French wire wheel. Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in the film is adorned with 24 “car-goyle” statues and flying buttresses in the shape of exhaust pipes.
During production, the “Cars 2” team was also able to explore the car showrooms on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and visit the Grand Palais Museum and the Louvre. They saw the Bastille Opera and the Musée d’Orsay, and were excited to incorporate Les Halles into the film. While the old food market was torn down in the ‘70s, it was resurrected for “Cars 2,” transformed into a marketplace of spare auto parts. “It ended up being this really evocative space,” says Jessup, “a vast, cast-iron structure, big enough for the cars to chase through and there’s this whole gypsy marketplace happening inside that is texturally really remarkable.
“It was really fun for me to get to work in Paris again,” continues Jessup. “We studied it so much for ‘Ratatouille,’ so it was a treat to be back there. Paris is really beautiful.”
“When we decided that we were going to create a fictional Italian town,” says Lewis, “we wanted it to be our love letter to Italian racing. Racing in Italy is such a passion—we wanted to capture the heart and soul of it, from the beautiful coastline to the crazy crown jewel of racing—the Formula 1 race in Monaco—and, of course, Monte Carlo, which has the great casino.”
To develop the fictional seaside city of Porto Corsa, Italy, the “Cars 2” production team from Pixar visited locations on the coast of both Italy and France—taking scenic drives from Portofino, Italy, to Nice, France, and checking out the racing action in Monaco.
Portofino provided a lot of inspiration for Porto Corsa. “The Italian Riviera is all terracotta roofs, brightly painted buildings and beautiful cobblestone with Mediterranean vegetation and beautiful turquoise water,” says Jessup. The team sought a very upscale look and feel for their town of Porto Corsa, and so incorporated French-Riviera-style architecture into the Portofino-type setting.
Appropriately “car-ified” with features of classic Italian cars, the Porto Corsa Marina is shaped like an automobile wheel, the casino is built on a rocky outcropping shaped like a 1948 Fiat 500 Topolino, and the craps table in the casino features fuzzy dice—like something one might find dangling from a rearview mirror.
“The ‘car-ification’ of these exotic locales is like a character unto itself,” says Lasseter. “It adds a level of humor and entertainment to the movie that the settings of a Pixar film have never done before.”
The overseas adventure in “Cars 2” kicks off in Japan and filmmakers were excited to showcase the vibrant color that illuminates Tokyo at night. “The Ginza signs and super-rich colors there were extraordinary,” says Jessup.
Having visited Japan many times, both Lasseter and Lewis were excited about bringing the cars to Tokyo. “[We thought] if the racers went to Tokyo, they would be exposed to a very different culture,” says Lewis. “Lightning McQueen and Mater would be thrown into these great dramatic situations in which Lightning might be comfortable with the lights and the international attention, but it would be brand new to Mater. He might stick out a little.”
Adds Lasseter, “Anybody who’s been to Japan and has walked into a Japanese bathroom knows that the toilets tend to do a lot more than what Americans are used to. We kept thinking, ‘How would Mater react?’ and ‘What would a bathroom be like for a car?’ Let’s just say we had a little fun with that.”
A small production team took a trip to Tokyo in October 2009 that ultimately inspired the setting for one of the early scenes. Among the researchers was Sharon Calahan, director of photography–lighting. “Tokyo had changed a bit since the last time I’d been there,” says Calahan, “but it was really nice to get into some areas of town that I hadn’t seen before–places off the beaten path. It provided an intriguing contrast with the bigger, brasher, bolder neon section. We were able to explore freely to really get inspired. The [World Grand Prix] opening party sequence was set in a museum and the National Art Center in Tokyo was just below our hotel. We hadn’t planned on using it for inspiration, but we saw it and thought, ‘Wow, look at this beautiful building.’”
“It lent itself to fairly quick ‘car-ification,’” says Lewis. “It was beautiful and modern and it felt like the right place for us to have this kickoff party for the World Grand Prix.”
While in Tokyo, the production team was able to actually follow the film’s street race course. Inspired by the Formula 1 nighttime race that takes place on the streets of Singapore, Lasseter and Lewis watched race footage for reference. “During the race, you see this brilliant halogen white light throughout the tracks,” says Lewis. “It’s really gorgeous. John and I thought if we could get the Tokyo neon and make it a night race with that brilliant halogen white light it would be a great kick-off for the movie. It’s such a juxtaposition to Radiator Springs, the ultimate Americana, to have this high-tech neon bright light center is the perfect cultural contrast.”
“This movie is vastly different than ‘Cars’ in nearly every way,” says Lasseter, “yet it’s still a part of the world of ‘Cars.’ That’s what made it so much fun. The settings all around the world, the glitz, the glamour, the cool hipness of the European settings and Japan, the whole spy genre, the form of racing that they do, the type of race cars that are there. Everything about it was cool, and it was so much fun to do.”
ABOUT THE MOVIE
Star racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and the incomparable tow truck Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) take their friendship to exciting new places in “Cars 2” when they head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world’s fastest car. But the road to the championship is filled with plenty of potholes, detours and hilarious surprises when Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own: international espionage. Mater finds himself torn between assisting Lightning McQueen in the high-profile race and towing the line in a top-secret mission orchestrated by master British super spy Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine) and the stunning rookie field spy Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer). Mater’s action-packed journey leads him on an explosive chase through the streets of Japan and Europe, trailed by his friends and watched by the whole world. The fast-paced fun includes a colorful new all-car cast, complete with menacing villains and international racing competitors.
John Lasseter returns to the driver’s seat to direct this follow-up to his 2006 Golden Globe®-winning “Cars.” “Cars 2” is co-directed by Brad Lewis, producer of the Oscar®-winning film “Ratatouille,” and produced by visual effects industry veteran Denise Ream (associate producer, “Up”; visual effects executive producer, “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith”). The film hits the track on June 24, 2011, and will be presented in Disney Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D in select theaters.